By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Oh my goodness. It’s football season.
You knew that already, of course, but you know, this is a big deal. This is how we imbeciles deal with the end of summer without descending into a great depression. This is what our Sundays and our Mondays and our Thursdays until mid-winter will consist of, and holy smokes, we even get the Saturday of Christmas Eve! Sorry, family, but this holiday will have to wait. There’s football on my TV.
So maybe we all go a little bit overboard every year, and maybe we are the lemmings upon which the NFL relies to keep ratings spiking and the revenue flowing, but it’s not without reason. The league may have its problems, but the sport is great. It’s not a coincidence that it’s by far the country’s most-watched sport, and given all of the tools that we have at our disposal — high definition, live football on phones, RedZone, GamePass, etc., etc., etc. — this is really the golden era for watching football.
So we need not make any apologies. We like football. And so we will enjoy football. In between all that nonsense thrown our way by the league office, there’s a whole lot of beauty on that football field.
Where things don’t always look so pretty is right here in the picks column, where I’ve picked every single game since 2009 and all I have to show for it is a .483 success rate. It’s not ideal.
But I’ll tell you this, folks. I’m smarter than ever, OK? I’m older and wiser and more prepared for these picks than I’ve ever been. I’m going to make the best picks, the picks will be so good that I’m going to blow your mind, all right? There are a lot of people making picks, but nobody makes picks like me, not this year. It’s going to be unbelievable. I’ll get so many picks right, it’ll make your head spin, all right?
(Sorry, I’ll never do that again. On to the picks!)
(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)
DENVER (+3) over Carolina
You don’t often see the defending Super Bowl champs open up as home underdogs in Week 1, but it’s not every day that the defending champs start Random Man at quarterback.
Trevor Siemian has, obviously, never thrown an NFL pass. And when he threw passes in college at Northwestern, he wasn’t great. This history has some folks concerned. Add in the intimidation factor of the Carolina defense, and the revenge factor, and it all might spell trouble for the Broncos.
But, you know, while the whole world zigs, you can’t be afraid to zag. And even though Peyton Manning’s brain may have been unmatched in football last year, he also had the arm of an 11-year-old boy. The Broncos got 19 touchdowns and 23 interceptions out of their two quarterbacks last year, and that didn’t stop them from winning 12 games and then going on to win the Super Bowl.
So, am I concerned that Trevor Siemian might stink? Well, the fact that I’ve had to double-check his first name about 15 times this summer makes that answer a yes.
But the Denver defense remains legitimate, and opening on the road on a banner night is difficult. In the past dozen years, since the NFL started having the Super Bowl champ open the season at home, that team has only lost once. (Baltimore had to go on the road because the Orioles were playing, so their loss doesn’t count.) Only the 2008 Giants lost. The other 10 champs all won, and they did it by an average margin of victory of 10.7 points. They’re rarely even close.
Tampa Bay (+3) over ATLANTA
If I know anything, I know that people named Dirk Koetter don’t lose their first game as an NFL head coach. That’s just basic science, folks.
(Nobody knows anything about this game, OK? Nobody. Don’t believe otherwise. But the Bucs swept the Falcons last year, so maybe they keep it rolling?)
BALTIMORE (-3) over Buffalo
I don’t feel great about either of these teams this year, but you have to give the nod to the 4-0 preseason-champion Baltimore Ravens.
Chicago (+6.5) over HOUSTON
I know Brian Hoyer is gone. I know Dave Clowney’s looked good. (Yes, I’m calling him Dave.) I know J.J. Watt is back. But I’m sorry. The taste of that playoff loss will not go away for a while.
Green Bay (-5.5) over JACKSONVILLE
It’s Week 1, so we don’t know much about any teams. But if we don’t know that the Packers are going to roll the Jaguars, then we really don’t know anything.
Bonus content: It just wouldn’t be a September picks column without some shots of that radical pool down in Jacksonville!
Update: Still the grossest place in the league to watch a football game!
Cincinnati (-2.5) over NEW YORK JETS
I follow the offseason as closely as any reasonable human being can while still maintaining some semblance of a life, which is to say that I don’t catch every single development around the league. Yet the story that stuck out the most this summer came from the Jets, after a terrible practice when Brandon Marshall was punting footballs over stands. The spin from the Jets locker room was that a terrible day of practice was a great thing, because … I don’t know, it showed them how badly they need to get better?
Anyway, this came after the team needlessly played hardball with Ryan Fitzpatrick far too long, yet the beat writers seemed to eat it up. “Yes! A disjointed practice will equal long-term success!”
Maybe I’m the dumb one, but I don’t get it.
TENNESSEE (+2) over Minnesota
I just don’t like a team that witnessed an injury so gruesome that all the players were apparently on the verge of fainting. I don’t like that team to come out and win Week 1. That team seems shaken.
I also don’t like any team that trades for Sam Bradford! Sam Bradford! In real life!
Cleveland (+4) over PHILADELPHIA
Rule of thumb: When you think the final score is going to be 0-0, you take the four points.
KANSAS CITY (-7) over San Diego
San Diego Chargers: Still an NFL team! There’s a little-known fun fact for you little goofballs.
NEW ORLEANS (-1) over Oakland
I do like the Raiders. I like them a lot. But I liked them a lot last summer, and then it came to Week 1 and I saw Jack Del Rio on the sidelines and I had no choice but to eat my shirt. They got their butts kicked by Cincy.
So yes, they’re a good team, and they’ll win some games, but I just don’t see that being a setup that can get a team ready to go on the road and win in a hostile environment to start a season.
SEATTLE (-10.5) over Miami
Ton of points. Uncomfortable volume of points. But in that stadium, it feels like this will be a game Seattle can control for the duration and then tack on a bonus score or two late in the fourth to make it look like a blowout. Seattle’s coming off a season with the fourth-best offense and very best defense. I know the Seahawks slipped up at home three times last year, but are they going to faceplant on home turf in Week 1? Pete Carroll would simply not allow his team’s level of pumpedness and jackedness to drop so low for a season opener.
INDIANAPOLIS (-3.5) over Detroit
This game will draw, literally, zero viewers who aren’t viewing for rooting, gambling and/or fantasy purposes. Zero interested parties will tune in to watch this one.
DALLAS (+1) over New York Giants
I’m going to be honest with you, folks. I’ve got Dak Fever™. I’ve got it bad.
Maybe not that bad. But I’m not convinced of Ben “Eats Six Meals Per Week At Applebee’s” McAdoo as a head coach in the NFL. Maybe he turns out being Paul Freaking Brown for all I know, but when you look like this …
… I will need to see it in action before I believe it. Because right now, all I see is a guy putting in a second order of cheeseburger egg rolls.
New England (+6) over ARIZONA
The smart/easy pick here is to take the Cardinals and move on with your life. After all, Tom Brady is in exile, so what’s the discussion, right?
Well, that thought process involves giving great respect to the Arizona defense, which is certainly worthy. But, uhh, what about the New England defense? That defense looked like a legitimate force through the preseason, and with some really high-level explosive talent (Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower) mixed in with a smart pair of veteran safeties (Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung) and a feisty No. 1 cornerback (Malcolm Butler) and an always-formidable defensive line and some complementary pieces sprinkles throughout … that defense could do some damage this year.
And, lo and behold, Carson Palmer just may be willing to serve up a few turnovers. He threw exactly 100 interceptions in his playoff slop in Carolina, and he’s followed it up with a zero-touchdown, three-interception preseason.
Granted, Jim Garoppolo might not be any better, but it’s easy to see this game having some defensive scores and staying close throughout. (Also, a man named Rob Gronkowski plays for the New England Patriots.)
Whenever the Patriots are getting six points, you have to pounce. They’re a much more thoroughly built team to succumb to the absence of just one player.
WASHINGTON (+3) over Pittsburgh
Sometimes you need to put your faith in the randomness that can be twisted into fact. And in my research for this one, I’ve found that the Steelers are 1-4 against the spread in their last five season openers. That is, to use a technical term, quite stinky. Quite.
Maybe Mike Tomlin likes his team to get humbled in Week 1 in order to create some coachable areas. Or maybe his headset breaks every year in Week 1. Whatever the case, I like that trend.
SAN FRANCISCO (+2.5) over Los Angeles
What a perfect — PERFECT! — way to conclude Week 1 of the NFL season: Making all of us idiot East Coasters stay up until 1 a.m. to watch the dramatic conclusion of a football game played by two terrible football teams. And, by the majesty of scheduling, one of these two teams is guaranteed to be sitting in first place in the NFC West after the final whistle.
The rest of us? We will, groggigly, awake Tuesday morning full of shame and deep regret for our sins. But we will wash our faces and trudge on, as a season’s worth of lousy prime-time games that run past midnight has only just begun.
Football season — oh, it is here, baby. Oh. It. Is. Here.